Can Jennifer come out and play?  How about Jeffrey?

Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) gets paid a lot of money to be the spokesperson for the Connecticut charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies.

Doing that job earned her $224,000 in salary and benefits in 2014. Her board of corporate elite even gave her a $25,000 bonus that year, all so that she could continue to push their pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher political agenda.

However, while Jennifer Alexander spends plenty of time inside the Capitol lobbying legislators and working with the Malloy administration, she has refused, to date, to accept an offer to debate the real problems and issues facing Connecticut’s public school children, parents, teachers and schools.

Not that long ago, UConn actually invited me to participate in a panel discussion about the very issues facing Connecticut’s public schools.  Other participants were to include both Jennifer Alexander and Jeffrey Villar, the highly paid executive of the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, another charter school industry front group.

However, within 48 hours of the invitation being sent, UConn suddenly cancelled the panel.  And when it was rescheduled months later, no invitation to me was forthcoming.

Meanwhile, thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic controlled General Assembly, while Connecticut’s public schools are being hit with the deepest cuts in state history, Malloy and his administration are shoveling even more scarce taxpayer dollars to privately owned and operated charter schools that have consistently refused to educate their fair share of children who require special education services or those who need extra help learning the English language.  These charter schools even allow a significant number of uncertified teachers and staff to “educate” the children they claim to serve.

One would think that being paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year would give Jennifer Alexander the courage and conviction, or at least the obligation, to actually come out and debate the issues.

But in Malloy’s Connecticut, honesty and transparency are useless terms and those paid to defend his positions choose to remain hidden inside their golden temples.

Thus, I renew my request and offer.

Ms. Alexander, we’re waiting with baited breath.  Come out and debate.

Or perhaps Mr. Villar would be willing to defend the reformers’ indefensible positions.

How about it Jen or Jeffrey?

This is an important election year, why not accept my challenge and debate the issues so that Connecticut’s voters have the information they need to make informed decisions.

No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’

In a commentary piece entitled, No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’, and first published in the CT Mirror, Connecticut educator and public education advocate James Mulholland took on the absurd rhetoric that is being spewed by the corporate funded education reform industry.

Collecting their six figure incomes, these lobbyists for the Common Core, Common Core testing scam and the effort to privatize public education in the United States claim that more standardized testing is the key to improving educational achievement.

Rather than focus on poverty, language barriers, unmet special education needs and inadequate funding of public schools, the charter school proponents and Malloy apologists want students, parents, teachers and the public to believe that a pre-occupation with standardized testing, a focus on math and English, “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies for students and undermining the teaching profession will force students to “succeed” while solving society’s problems.

Rather than rely on evidence, or even the truth, these mouthpieces for the ongoing corporatization of public education are convinced that if they simply say an untruth long enough, it will become the truth.

In his recent article, James Mullholland takes them on – writing;

In a recent commentary piece, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, praises the Connecticut State Board of Education’s support for using student SBAC results in teacher evaluations. He claims, “The absence of such objective data has left our evaluation system light on accountability.” He further contends, “Connecticut continues to have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, the SBE appears committed to continuing to take this issue on.”

Contrary to Mr. Villar’s assertion, there is little, if any, evidence to support the idea that including standardized test scores in teacher evaluations will close the so-called achievement gap.

In some ways, it is a solution looking for a problem. Mr. Villar writes, “recently released evaluation results rated almost all Connecticut teachers as either proficient or exemplary. That outcome doesn’t make much sense.”

Other education reform groups express similar disbelief that there are so many good teachers in the state. In her public testimony during Connecticut’s 2012 education reform bill, Jennifer Alexander of ConnCAN testified that too few teachers were being dismissed for poor performance: “When you look at the distribution of ratings in those systems, you again see only about two percent of teachers, maybe five max, falling at that bottom rating category.” (Transcript of legislative testimony, March 21, 2012, p. 178.)

Education reform groups seem dismayed that they have been unable to uncover an adequate number of teachers who are bad at their jobs and continue to search for a method that exposes the boogeyman of bad teachers. But that’s exactly what it is: a boogeyman that simply doesn’t exist.

Regardless of the methodology that’s used, the number of incompetent teachers never satisfies education reform groups. They see this as a flaw in the evaluation system rather than a confirmation of the competency of Connecticut’s teachers.

However, Connecticut isn’t alone. After both Tennessee and Michigan overhauled their teacher evaluation systems, 98 percent of teachers were found to be effective or better; in Florida it was 97 percent. The changes yielded only nominal differences from previous years.

Mr. Vallar believes that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will decrease the achievement gap. There is no evidence to support the belief that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will lessen the differences in learning outcomes between the state’s wealthier and less-advantaged students.

In 2012, the federal Department of Education, led by Secretary Arne Duncan, granted Connecticut a waiver from the draconian requirements of No Child Left Behind. To qualify for the waiver, the results of standardized tests were to be included in teacher evaluations.

However, the policies of the secretary, which he carried with him from his tenure as Superintendent of Schools in Chicago to Washington D.C., never achieved the academic gains that were claimed. A 2010 analysis of Chicago schools by the University of Chicago concluded that after 20 years of reform efforts, which included Mr. Duncan’s tenure, the gap between poor and rich areas had widened.

The New York Times reported in 2011 that, “One of the most striking findings is that elementary school scores in general remained mostly stagnant, contrary to visible improvement on state exams reported by the Illinois State Board of Education.”

Most striking is a letter to President Obama signed by 500 education researchers in 2015, urging Congress and the President to stop test-based reforms. In it, the researchers argue that this approach hasn’t worked. “We strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities.”

Using standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness reminds me of the time I saw a friend at the bookstore. “What are you getting?” I asked. “About 14 pounds worth,” he joked. Judging books by their weight is a measurement, but it doesn’t measure what is valuable in a book. Standardized tests measure something, but it’s not the effectiveness of a teacher.

To read and comment on James Mulholland’s commentary piece go to:  http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/04/20/opinion-james-mulholland/

Is your bank or insurance company helping to undermine your child’s education?

Yesterday we learned that the CT School Finance Project is nothing more than a front for another group called the Connecticut Council for Education Reform.  (See Wait, What? post CT School Finance Project – Here we again – Another education reform front group.)

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform Inc. (CCER) is a corporate funded “education reform” advocacy group that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, anti-teacher initiatives.

In fact, no one, other than Governor Dannel Malloy, has been a bigger cheerleader for the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing system than CCER.

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is rigged to fail up to 70 percent of all public school children and up to 90 percent of children who have special education needs or face English Language barriers.

As a result of the inappropriately designed SBAC test, approximately 3 in every 4 African-American and Latino children will be labeled failures this year.

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) purports to be a non-partisan, 501(c) (3) (non-profit) organization, but their agenda is extremely political and their funds are being used to undermine Connecticut’s public schools and unfairly label Connecticut’s public school students and teachers.

You can read some of the absurd things CCER and its allies have written via the following articles;

CT Mirror– Op-Ed: Test data matters for Connecticut. Education is a science

Demystifying Student Assessment

For Parents, Testing is an Opportunity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–Education is a Data-Driven Science

And where does this corporate funded group get their money?  According to their own reports CCER’s biggest donors include;

Webster Bank

Bank of America

Wells Fargo

First Niagara Foundation

Ion Bank Foundation

Other major funders include The Hartford and the Travelers Foundation

If you bank with these organizations or buy policies through these companies you are actually helping to fund an organization that is actively undermining our public schools and the children who attend them.

And just how far will they go to contaminate the debate around public education?

The Chairman of CCER’s Board of Directors is Steve J. Simmons.  The Greenwich cable company executive is not only a major funder of the charter school industry, but just last week he co-hosted a fundraiser for none-other-than Education Reform Groupie Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch has consistently failed to fund Bridgeport’s public schools while diverting millions of taxpayer dollars to privately owned but publicly funded charter schools.  However, Mayor Finch’s anti-public education efforts didn’t stop Steve Simmons and other “Education Reformers” from asking their friends to hand over up to $1,000 a person for Finch’s re-election campaign.

It is bad enough that CCER is misleading the public and is lobbying on behalf of an agenda that is hurting students, parents, teachers and public schools, but it is even worse they are doing it with money that belonged to Connecticut consumers.

If you bank with Webster Bank, Bank of America or any of the other corporations that are pushing Governor Dannel Malloy’s corporate education reform industry agenda, the next time you go to the bank, speak with your insurance company or communicate with one of CCER’s funders, ask them why they are using the money that they take from us to undermine our public schools and label our children as failures.

No, the Common Core SBAC test is not like a blood test.

The unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test is designed to ensure that the vast majority of Connecticut public school students are deemed failures after taking this year’s Common Core SBAC tests.

Here are the projected results for this year’s SBAC test for 6th graders.  [The information comes from the SBAC organization’s own report.]

Projected Common Core SBAC Results for 6th Graders

English/ Language Arts  6th Grade Percent failing to reach goal
All 6th Graders 60% Fail Rate
African American 6th Graders 75% Fail Rate
Latino 6th Graders 74% Fail Rate
6th Graders (Special Education) 90% Fail Rate
6th Graders (English Language Learners 95% Fail Rate

 

The Common Core SBAC test is designed to ensure failure because it is testing children at 2-3 grade levels above their present curriculum and because it requires significant computer skills just to get through the test.

The Common Core SBAC test is also extraordinarily expensive, in part because all children must take the test on updated computers, using updated software and utilizing expanded internet bandwidth.

In California, another state that is using the Common Core SBAC test, cost data that is part of a major lawsuit being brought by local school districts reveal that the total cost of the Common Core SBAC Testing farce could be $250 – $500 dollars per child, per year.

Here in Connecticut, the Malloy administration is providing significantly less than 20 percent of the cost of implementing the SBAC testing program, meaning local property taxpayers are literally shelling out tens of millions of dollars for a test that is designed to fail their children.

But rather than tell the truth about the Common Core SBAC testing scam, the corporate education reform industry and their allies are engaged in an unprecedented effort to mislead student, parents, teachers and the public about the SBAC test.

Equally offensive, these corporate funded lobbyists have joined with the Malloy administration and some school superintendents to try and stop parents from opting their children out of these tests and punishing children whose parents have opted them out.

In what may well be the  most incredible and absurd defense of the Common Core SBAC test written to date, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a corporate funded front group for the Common Core and Charter Schools recently published an article entitled, “For Parents, Testing is an Opportunity.”

Jeffrey Villar, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, is a registered lobbyist whose compensation package is in excess of $150,000 a year.  His job is to promote the corporate education reform industry in Connecticut.

In a truly bizarre defense of the unfair and discriminatory SBAC test, the front man for the Common Core and Charter School front group writes,

For Parents, Testing is an Opportunity

I have my annual physical this week. It’s not something I look forward to, and I particularly dislike the associated blood test. Nonetheless, the test provides my doctor and me with important information about my health, and we use that data to make decisions that help me live a healthier life. It makes me think: there are some interesting parallels to the standardized assessment that my own children, and all Connecticut children in grades 3-8 and 11, take annually.

[…]

I appreciate the value of the SBAC test because I know firsthand that grades don’t provide parents with enough information. In my experience within the public education system, grading practices from teacher to teacher and school to school vary enormously. That’s why I rely upon standardized assessments to accurately understand where my own children stand. If any of my children are behind in school, knowing that early is an opportunity; it gives me time to prepare them before they graduate high school, rather than finding out they’re behind once they’re enrolled in expensive remedial classes in college.

[…]

The comparability of the data among students, schools, and districts is also important. Since I am divorced, my children attend schools in two different towns, and I want to be sure that both school systems are preparing them equally for the future. Absent a comparable measure such as the SBAC, it would be hard for me to know.

Despite these benefits, many parents are still concerned about over-testing. Some expend an incredible amount of energy trying to opt their children out of the SBAC. I want to alert these parents to the important benefits of having access to standardized assessment data. Also, my unsolicited advice to concerned parents is this: consider speaking with a principal about your district’s high school graduation requirements. In your earnest efforts to do what is right for your children, you may be inadvertently creating problems; under Connecticut law, districts are generally required to incorporate test results into graduation requirements. There are some exceptions, but you should confirm that your children can still graduate if they miss the test.

[…]

Some parents have inadvertently pushed their children into more testing by choosing to enroll them in the Advanced Placement (AP) courses that impress the most prestigious colleges and universities. It’s hard to argue against demonstrating mastery in these advanced courses. However, when stacked on top of SAT and ACT tests in high school, these additional exams may contribute to the notion that there’s too much testing these days.

And Villar concludes,

It’s also possible that when parents talk about schools over-testing their kids, they’re referring to their districts “prepping” kids for the state test. This ill-fated attempt to quickly improve testing results simply doesn’t work, and it does not come from a faulty state-testing system.

Seasoned educators know that the best ways to prepare children to succeed on tests are to engage them in a curriculum that is challenging, to give teachers enough time and resources, and to encourage students to do their best. Somewhat similarly, there is little that I can do to prepare for the blood test at my annual physical in the short term. Only long-term efforts at exercising regularly and eating well will help me pass the test.

Villar’s incredible statements are so misleading that they cross the line into outright lies.

What is worse is that as a former superintendent of schools, Villar knows that he is not providing his readers with the truth.

For starters, here is one important bit of information for Connecticut parents.

It is against state law for a Connecticut school district to require a student to take or pass the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test in order to graduate.  The district cannot make passing the SBAC test a required element for graduation, in fact, a school district can’t even require a student take the SBAC test in order to graduate.

Furthermore, there is no federal or state law that allows the state or school district to punish a child (or parent) who opts their children out of the Common Core SBAC Test.

Even the Alan Taylor, the Chairman of the State Board of Education, told a legislative hearing that neither the state nor a school district could punish a child who is opted out of the test.

But like others spokesmen for the Corporate Education Reform Industry, Mr. Villar apparently believes he is not bounded by any moral or ethical duty to tell the truth.

It is a shockingly sad statement, and a powerful commentary on our times, that a leading proponent of the Common Core and the Common Core SBAC testing would engage in blatant lying in order to try and mislead students, parents, teachers and the public.

I have challenged Mr. Villar to debate these issues three times over the past few weeks and each time he has failed to respond.

Rather than spew indefensible statements, the corporate education reform industry should release their talking heads to come out here into the real word and debate their positions in a public forum that would allow the media and citizens to finally learn the truth.

Oh, and if the actions being taken by Mr. Villar and Connecticut Council on Education Reform aren’t offensive enough, check back with Wait, What? this coming week to find out just who is funding these anti-teacher, anti-parent, anti-student, and anti-public school tactics.

Pelto renews challenge to Corporate Education Reform Industry Leaders to Debate

A week ago I issued a request to the paid spokespeople of the Corporate Education Reform Industry in Connnecticut to set up a debate to discuss the educational issues facing Connecticut.  Their response has been silence.

Therefore, I am renewing my request and sent the following email to Jennifer Alexander, Chief Executive Officer, ConnCAN and Jeffrey A. Villar, Executive Director, Connecticut Council for Education Reform

Ms. Alexander, Mr. Villar;

Considering neither of you list your email address on the ConnCAN or CCER websites, I assuming that you may not have received my February 17, 2015 email challenging you to meet and discuss the educational issues that are confronting Connecticut.

As paid representatives of the Corporate Education Reform Industry you have been making a variety of statements to Connecticut  media outlets that I consider to be extremely misleading.  In many cases, those statements have gone unchallenged because there is no readily available mechanism to refute your unsubstantiated claims.

The people of Connecticut deserve an open discussion about these important issues and so I am renewing my request that you agree to a public debate about these issues.

I am hopeful that one or more of Connecticut’s media outlets would be willing to provide a venue for this important discussion.

The clock is ticking on this year’s legislative session so please get back to me so that we can work through any logistics or issues that need to be addressed prior to such a debate.

Jonathan Pelto

Education Advocate

Education Blogger

February 17, 2015:  Pelto Challenges Connecticut’s Corporate Education Reform Industry Leaders to debate

After spending record amounts of money lobbying for Governor Dannel Malloy’s Corporate Education Reform Industry Initiatives, Connecticut’s corporate funded education reform advocacy groups continue to spend millions of dollars misleading parents and policy makers, denigrating teachers and the teaching profession and promoting the discriminatory, inappropriate and unfair Common Core and Common Core Testing Scheme.

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform Inc. (CCER) are two of the leading entities behind the wholesale assault on public education in Connecticut.

As the paid ambassadors for those seeking to profit off of our children and our public schools, these so-called “education reformers” have constantly and consistently resorted to misleading statements and outright lies to back up their anti-public education agenda and rhetoric.

Unfortunately for Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, public schools and taxpayers, these apologists for Governor Malloy and his corporate education reform agenda have gone unchallenged.

That situation has got to stop.

Today I am asking WNPR’s Where We Live, WFSB’s Face the State, FOXCT’s The Real Story, CT Report with Steve Kotchko and other appropriate news forums to host a debate between myself and any one of the leaders of these corporate advocacy fronts such as Jeffrey Villar, the Executive Director of Connecticut Council for Education Reform and Jennifer Alexander, the Chief Executive Officer of ConnCAN.

The people of Connecticut deserves the truth and a discussion on television or radio about the truth behind the corporate education reform industry’s efforts will provide Connecticut’s citizens with the information they need to tell fact from fiction.